Zen art has this characteristic quality, that it can fuse
delight in a work of visual art, knowledge of life, and personal
experiences and intuitions into one creative event.
The dragon glaring at us out of the depths of this cosmic streaming is one of nine painted on one long scroll by Ch'en Jung over seven centuries ago in China. The whole scroll is filled with such scenes of wild energy. Gigantic waves and spinning maelstroms dash off long fingers of spume. Just such a coiling and such a writhing exist in spiral nebulae, in atoms, and in human hearts and minds. Out of such wild energy came life, including human life. And in wildness, as Thoreau said, is the preservation of life.
In the primeval storm of the elements lives this dragon, a coiling, writhing being who symbolizes the energy that created and preserves life. He is an immortal being, as energy is immortal, an archetypal image of that within each of us which makes our existence more than ingestion and excretion. His claws and horns and savage sideways look do not charm or reassure us. They are fearsome, like the billows of mist and water in which he makes his home.
What transaction may we make with such a picture?
First, study the brushwork; you will be awed by the mastery it reveals—the sureness of stroke in the whorls and waves, the combination of meticulous attention to detail and spontaneity in the foamy edges of the mist fingers, the exactness of representation of the dragon's face and body, so scrupulous yet so natural, as they blend unobtrusively with the rest. No wonder Ch'en Jung's Nine Dragons Scroll has been treasured for over seven hundred years by Taoist chief priests and by Chinese emperors.
Second, you can treasure it, as the Taoists did, for its symbolic effect. It expresses their feeling and understanding of the ineffable power and mystery of life. And it gives a shape to the tempests that we sometimes feel in ourselves, tempests that toss our reason and will like chips on ocean waves.
Zen art has this characteristic quality, that it can fuse delight in a work of visual art, knowledge of life, and personal experiences and intuitions into one creative event. Such an event can bring inner structures into being that will help each person's own unconscious achieve the insight that will be liberating for that particular person. Such a transaction is not achieved easily. Ch'en Jung contributed his profound insight and his plastic power. To do our part, we must open our depths to contemplation of this ancient Taoist symbol.